The Internet, Social Media and the Asian Century

Asia is overtaking the West in the online sphere


The explosion in popularity of the internet and social media in Asia has led to the rise of bloggers, streamers and influencers coming out of the region.

With over 690 million internet users connected in China, 118 million in Japan, 340 million in India and 42 million in the Philippines, the current rankings for users by country, puts Asia clearly ahead of most European countries, Australia and Canada. Asian netizens are also spending more time engaging with the new trends and technology in the online sphere than their western counterparts.

Even in Asian countries where internet services are highly regulated by the government, like China, tens of thousands of people have begun livestreaming their daily lives, and visual content creators, like the lunch-hacking Queen, @OfficeChef.MsYeah, have become viral sensations both in their own countries and abroad.

But what are the differences between Asian and western users that create such variation in the two markets?

Of course, Korea and Japan have long been known as hubs of connectivity, and both continue to push the envelope when it comes to innovation online. South Korea’s lightning fast internet has a reputation world-wide, and Japanese companies’ clever adoption of viral internet marketing is well-documented.

The real, major difference between the Asian and western markets is the connectivity of the population to the Internet. Even today Asia has exceptionally low broadband penetration rates, this is especially true in rural areas. As a result, Asia is a mobile-first nation, with a much higher penetration of mobile and IoT connectivity.

Which means that when it comes to some internet services, such as web hosting, there is little conformity across the regional market.

Using hosting as an example, we can see that countries like Singapore, China and Taiwan boast a high rate of local web hosting companies for consumers to choose from. On the other hand, countries like India and Indonesia have much lower rates, but rather than missing out on the opportunity to build a digital presence, brands and individual netizens in these countries often outsource hosting from international companies. This results in a shift in the market dynamic globally, creating a necessity for hosting services located outside of Asia, such as Hosting Australia, to provide quality hosting to overseas clients as well as those locally based. Even large, globally successful hosting companies have taken notice of the opportunity presented by the popularity amongst internet users, and are expanding their efforts. Massive web hosting corporation Go Daddy, just launched services in 11 Asian countries over the last year.

Delving into the details, we can see that Chinese government spending on Internet infrastructure has led to the rise of private companies like Baidu and Ali Cloud, who have seen a lot of success from their investments in cloud computing and server farms.

On the flip side, In India, extraordinary GDP growth over the past few years has resulted in both an increase of wages and a flurry of entrepreneurial activity. This has led to an increase in the popularity of Internet services, but unlike China, more and more businesses in India are turning to cloud-based and hosted services with server farms located outside of India.

While Asian companies have taken to embracing new technologies and equipping themselves for a digital future, their western counterparts are still lagging behind in many ways.

A large part of this is the willingness of Asian countries to leapfrog technology for moving money, buying and selling off the back of social media platforms. The prevalence of services like Wechat wallet in China, which lets consumers pay for goods using their smartphones, or Go-Jek in Indonesia, which serves as a competitor to Uber’s ride sharing service, show that there’s less resistance to social and crowd-sharing technology in Asia than there is in western markets.

Industry reports suggest that China may beat the USA when it comes to the development and implementation of artificial intelligence. One of the reasons for this may be the trend of Asian brands and celebrities taking advantage of the use of AI chatbots in social media channels to engage with and gather vital data from shoppers and fans.

There is also more interest in investment regionally, with Telco and ISP’s from countries like China, Korea and Japan ramping up investment in India and Southeast Asia, and companies like Alibaba and Tencent penetrating the South East Asian market, long before US mega corps like Amazon, who only entered the SEA market this year with a new fulfillment centre for Asia based in Singapore.   

If western companies aren’t careful, they stand to be caught sleeping, and miss out on the potential that the Asian century is poised to offer. By 2025 most of the world’s middle class will be in Asia and the region will have fully transformed into a digital space. If the west is serious about catching up to Asian innovation in the online sphere, then the time to start investing and developing relationships is now.

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